Late last year, the people of Ivory Coast hoped finally to turn their back on years of civil war and conflict and turn a new page via the ballot box.
During Laurent Gbagbo’s decade-long rule, Ivory Coast effectively became partitioned between north and south.
His presidential run-off with Alassane Ouattara was seen as a chance to reunite the West African country democratically, under one leader.
But instead, the use of force would determine the course of events. Step by step, the political stand-off after the contested election descended into violence.
Once again, Ivory Coast was in a state of virtual civil war. At least 1,500 deaths have been reported. Once again, the principal victims caught up in the fighting have been civilians.
One of the worst atrocities took place around a week ago at Duékoué in the west of the country. Crowds reportedly looked on as people were burned alive.
Estimates differ as to how many people were killed. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 800 died; the Catholic organisation Caritas put the figure at over 1,000.
The UN said fewer people, at least 330, had been killed. But, pointedly, it accused pro-Ouattara forces of being mainly responsible for the bloodbath.
At the UN in New York, Youssouffou Bamba, Ivory Coast’s ambassador representing Alassane Ouattara, rejected the accusations.
“We deny totally any involvement of the FRCI (Ivory Coast Republican Forces) in any mass killings in Duekoue. As a matter of fact, those killings were perpetrating long before the FRCI were deployed in this area. You have to recall that the militia, the pro-Gbagbo militia from Liberia, are doing rampage killings on their way,” he said.
Whatever the outcome, the clashes of the last few months between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara supporters have potentially sewn the seeds of long-term chaos.
In particular, Gbagbo’s heavily armed “young patriots” make the outlook, in Abidjan especially, dangerously unpredictable.
Amid fears of reprisals on both sides, Ouattara’s supporters are keen to reassure the Gbagbo camp.
“There will be no witch-hunt. The republican forces are organising themselves at present to assure the security of all neighbourhoods that are prey to looting and abuses,” said Outtara’s Defence Ministry spokesman Leon All Kouakou.
Almost forgotten amid the violence, Ivory Coast’s economy - paralysed by conflict and sanctions – needs to get back on the rails.
The good news is that half a tonne of cocoa – the country’s lifeblood – until now stuck in warehouses, has been declared fit for export.